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Transcript of press conference: Townsville: June 21, 2013: The Coalitions 2030 Vision for Developing Northern Australia; Julia Gillard’s Carbon tax; Australia’s relationship with Indonesia; Labor's soap opera; Manus Island

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Joint Press Conference, Townsville June 21, 2013

Subjects: The Coalitions 2030 Vision for Developing Northern Australia; Julia Gillard’s Carbon tax; Australia’s relationship with Indonesia; Labor’s soap opera; Manus Island.



Thank you everyone for coming here today. I would like to welcome Tony Abbott, Andrew Robb and of course North

Queensland’s own Senator Ian Macdonald to Townsville.

We are here at JCU, James Cook University, at the ATSIP Building to announce our White Paper on Northern Australia, or to announce our policy on Northern Australia. I think it is fantastic that we have done it at James Cook University because it does

mean that we have to get our baselines right. It means that we will be guided, developing the north of Australia in a sustainable and sensible manner.

I want to always avoid the term boom when it comes to this because this is about the future of our country not just the next five

years. This is a major thing. North Queensland is perfectly positioned with our five pillar economy of mining, education, services, agriculture and manufacturing. We have all these things that we need to do and Townsville is perfectly placed to take advantage

of that.

North Queenslanders already know how vibrant we are, what our potential is and it is time that the rest of Australia caught up with that. With those few words I want to introduce Tony Abbott, Andrew Robb and Ian Macdonald.

Thank you very much.


Well thanks very much, it is great to be here, Ewen. Thanks for making myself, Andrew and Ian so welcome. It is great to be here

at James Cook University, one of the success stories of Northern Australia, with Andrew Robb who has been absolutely pivotal in developing this vision for Northern Australia and obviously with Senator Ian Macdonald who is Shadow Parliamentary Secretary

for Northern Australia.

This document is part of the Coalition’s vision for our country. This document is part of helping our country to achieve its potential. I want this great country of ours to achieve everything of which it is capable. That means Northern Australia cannot be forgotten

because Northern Australia is not our last frontier, it’s our next frontier. Northern Australia is not just something that matters for the one million people who live north of the Tropic of Capricorn, the development of Northern Australia is vital for the prosperity of the

whole of Australia.

We like to talk about the Asian century. If Australia is to play its part in the Asian century that part of our country which is already most integrated with Asia needs to be developed. So, this about a long term vision for Northern Australia and our country more

generally. It is about very significantly expanding our agriculture in the north, so that this area can be a food bowl for Asia. It is about very significantly further expanding our mining and resources industries here in the north. It is about making more of our

tourism potential here in the north.

To get that done what we need is better infrastructure. We need less red tape and less green tape. We need over time to ensure that where appropriate, where it fits, we have suitable government facilities placed here in Northern Australia rather than in the

corner of Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne.

I want to thank Andrew Robb for the work that he has done. Andrew has been almost a one-man think tank for the Coalition over the last three years. Obviously all of us have been thinking hard over the last three years about the kind of Australia that we want

to build, the kind of Australia that we want to leave for the future.

Tony Abbott Federal Member for Warringah | Leader of the Opposition

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This particular paper is a very important part of that and in the lead up to the election you will see more work like this from the

Coalition. There is a dams paper which Andrew has also been working on along with Barnaby Joyce. There are further infrastructure announcements particularly involving the Bruce Highway that the Coalition will be making in the weeks and months

ahead but above all else we are committed to building a better Australia.

We know, the people of Australia know, you know, that our best days are ahead of us but they will only come if we are prepared to make the big decisions that are needed for a better Australia and I am proud to say that the Coalition I lead will make those


So, I am going to ask Andrew to say a few words, then Ian and then we will take some questions.



Thanks very much Tony. Good morning everybody.

I’d just like to add some context to the announcement that we have made today and the details we have put in the public arena. Three years ago in the weeks after the last Federal Election in 2010 we sat down as a group led by Tony Abbott of course and

looked at how we would, if we got government this next election, how we would develop the great strengths of Australia. How we would achieve sustainable growth. Ok, we had been through a resources boom but how do we convert our strengths across the

board so that in the years and decades ahead we make the most of the great strength just like as individuals we make the most of our strength, just like companies and organisations who do well are usually making the most of their strengths. So, should

Australia. When we looked at it there are lots of other initiatives around the country but one of the great missing links in our view was the opportunity that’s presented by Northern Australia.

The fact is that over half the land mass of Australia is above the Tropic of Capricorn. Sixty per cent of all the water that falls in

Australia is above the Tropic of Capricorn and yet we capture two per cent of it, just two per cent. If we captured four per cent of that water, that massive amount of water, we could irrigate so much of Northern Australia.

There is up to seventeen million hectares of arable soil across the north. Much of it locked up in leaseholds that only allow cloven

footed animals to be used. They can’t have horticulture on so much of it. These are things, anachronisms from the past. We looked at how we would cut through all that yet with all those advantages we have got five per cent of the population - one million

out of twenty three million. So, we said to ourselves this is one of the projects that we have got to get our heads around and develop if we are going to give sustainable growth off into the future.

So, we have sent three years and I would like to thank in that sense a lot of people. Ian Macdonald in particular it is his

responsibility since the start of his career, since he became a Senator based out of Townsville. He has been, he has been driving us mad in the Party Room for many, many years I’ve got to say about the prospects in the north and he has been a great guiding

light with other colleagues in developing it.

I would like to thank Sandra Harding from JCU she has been an inspiration in the work she is doing. It is not just Asia, the opportunities there we are looking at, we are looking at the opportunities that the tropics presents us.

This region is part of the tropical region around the world where forty per cent of the world’s population exists and it is all growing

and developing and we have got such a, as a developed country we have got such enormous opportunity to service and to educate and to provide so much to that tropical region, quite apart from the tremendous developments to out north right

throughout Asia. So, I would like to thank Sandra Harding and her team.

I would like to thank Townsville Enterprise, I have several meeting with them. David Kippin has done a super job giving us a perspective of the north, the National Farmers Federation, Mayors and Councilors right across the north, Michael Jeffery the

former Governor General who has taken upon himself to make his major contribution in public life now the sustainability of our agricultural and environmental resources. He’s been a great mentor to me and others in the last three years as we developed this.

To the three Governments we have had a lot of contact with the Queensland, the Western Australian and the Northern Territory

Government and of course anything that we do stemming out of this document that we released today will be in lock-step with the Governments, it must be if we are to really captialise on all those developments. A lot of my colleagues have made a contribution

to this and of course there has been indigenous groups and we have met with hundreds, dozens very personally, but hundreds of cattlemen, horticulturalists and cane growers right across the north of Australia and it’s such an exciting opportunity we’ve got.

Now that there are markets to our north and south - not to our north and east and west which have got and are growing the

wherewithal. There are half a billion people have been in the middle class in Asia alone. It’s heading towards 3 billion people by

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2030 - not 2100, by 2030. The opportunities are phenomenal.

I’ll just finish up on the point that this is not about big government. Government has got a central role to show leadership, coordination, remove all the roadblocks. A lot of the difficulties in getting approvals for sensible balanced projects - there’s been a

veto over any water project of any consequence around the country for thirty years.

Now, we just need some balance restored and if we do we can develop this great potential.

So, it’s not about big government, it’s about inspiring and returning an appetite for risk and investment in the north by the private sector. To make it as best we can for the private sector to grab these opportunities and to provide a wonderful future and a much

bigger population and reach our obligation to develop the great strengths that we have been given here in the north.



Thanks very much Tony and Andrew. Northern Australia at last - the thing that’s so exhilarating for me and for most other Northern Australians today is the fact that the leader of our party and what we hope will be God willing the next Prime Minister of

Australia has taken a personal interest in the development of Northern Australia. Andrew Robb with his team have done a great job in understanding and being empathetic with what we in the north have always known. If I can borrow some words from the

Vice Chancellor of James Cook University, Sandra Harding - for us this is personal.

We live here. We’ve always known how good the north is and it’s so, as I say, exhilarating that the next Prime Minister, hopefully, shares our view. Ladies and gentlemen I also borrow other things from James Cook University. JCU have been on this approach

of the significance of Northern Australia to the tropic zone - the zone around the world that currently houses about forty per cent of the world’s population between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Tropic of Cancer. JCU have done an enormous amount of work

and Sandra, the Vice Chancellor, we’ll be borrowing more of your work as we develop the White Paper over the next few months.

I’m particularly pleased that we have committed to a White Paper that will set the framework, set the roadmap for the development of the north. Things like the CRC for Northern Australia will be a great initiative. The issue that many of us in the north have been

talking about for years in focusing for strategic reasons of course, more of our defence forces in the north is particularly important.

As both Andrew and Tony have said, the idea of the food bowl can happen with additional land in the north - some five to seventeen million hectares of determined good, arable land in the north can happen, but we need water and the proposal for a

water fund to look at how some of these new initiatives in water management and water storage can happen, is all very exciting.

Above all ladies and gentlemen, the thing that for those of us in the north - Ewen Jones, Warren Entsch, George Christensen and I and my colleagues in the west - this is all about jobs, it’s about creation of new activities for people up here and the idea of

getting some public servants - some more public servants up here is great, because it gives us in the north the opportunity to let them share with us the great lifestyle that we have in Northern Australia. It is a great opportunity, a very, very exciting day and

Tony and Andrew, thank you very much for bringing to this, the focus that it’s always needed but has eventually at last, achieved.


Thank you so much. Ok, do we have any questions?


You said last year that there’s absolutely no way that people in different parts of Australia will be paying a different tax bracket depending on where they live. Are you preparing to go back on your word?


No, there has been a zonal tax rebate in operation for many, many years. It’s obviously going to a lot more people at a lot less a

rate now than it was back in the 1940s and 50s. As part of the White Paper process, we’re going to have a look at the zonal tax rebate to see whether it can be better targeted.


Mr Abbott, we’ve had a leak of this earlier this year, we now have a Blue Paper saying we’re going to have a White Paper. When

will we actually see specific funding foe North Queensland?


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Well, the White Paper will be produced within twelve months of a change of government should that happen on the 14th of September, but there will be further announcements by the Coalition pre-election, including some very significant announcements for the Bruce Highway, because the Bruce Highway is the Gateway to Northern Australia. It links two of the great cities of

Northern Australia with the south and it’s very important that we upgrade over time the Bruce Highway so that it is truly and

seriously a piece of 21st century infrastructure.


Tax hikes, subsidies and further investments it sounds like a very costly exercise. How are you going to finance this in the short



Well, in the short term there will be announcements concerning the Bruce Highway and they will be fully funded and we will be letting the Australian people know exactly how we will fund all our announcements in good time before the next election.


But not this announcement?


Well this announcement sets up a vision and a process for realising that vision. This is our Northern Australia policy. It’s a very

important paper which has been informed by a lot of discussion and a lot of thinking by many people lead and coordinated by Andrew Robb and Ian Macdonald. Now, there’s more thinking, more refinement that’s needed. Part of that process is a regular

meeting of the governments with principle responsibility for Northern Australia, the national government, the Queensland Government, the Northern Territory Government and the Western Australian Government and that will be part of the regular

timetable of any incoming Coalition government in Canberra.


Mr Abbott, you’ve been very critical of the Government’s finances so far. Is the Government’s coffers in good position and can we afford this? Or are they in a bad position?


What we need to do is spend less money on lower priority recurrent programmes and more money on higher priority capital

programmes. That’s what we need to do if we are going to see our nation in the position of economic strength that it should be in but this is a vision for the long-term. It’s not something for the next six months or even for just the next three years but it’s got to

start now. It’s got to start now and it will start from day one of the election of a Coalition government, should that happen on

September the 14th.


Why should people of Northern Australia vote for this if they don’t know that you can pay for it?


Well, if you look at what’s happened here in Northern Australia over the last 20 or 30 years, it has developed. There’s no doubt

Northern Australia today is far more dynamic and sophisticated than it was a generation ago. Townsville, Cairns, Darwin, Karratha have grown enormously over the last two or three decades. Partly through tourism, partly through mining and resources and partly

through appropriate moving of governmental institutions to Northern Australia. Such as this university, such as some of the defence facilities here in the great city of Townsville. What we need is more of it and what we need is a thought through

coordinated vision and that’s what people will get from an incoming Coalition government.


What do you say to those in the south who would be asking why they aren’t being talked about as getting tax cuts, considerations for their own financial situations


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Well, I would just go back to the initial answer. We’re talking here about looking again at the long standing zonal rebates which have been in place for many decades. We need to ask the question, are they going to the right people and is it the right quantum

and that’s something that will happen as part of the White Paper process. What we will never do is, because it is contrary to good government, is have two different sets of taxation arrangements. That’s not contemplated, never has been contemplated, wouldn’t

be contemplated but I think all Australians want to see our country developed and a vision for Northern Australia is a vision for all Australians, not just for the million or so people who currently live north of the tropic.


Why hasn’t Mackay been included?


Well, Mackay is just about on the tropic and obviously it is going to be a city that will benefit from this vision.


Is it something that might maybe be included in the future?


Well, I think if you look at the map, it does include Mackay.


It’s not one of the four main centres you have mentioned though.


Well, if you would like me to make it five, I’m happy to do that.


Mr Abbott, let’s just talk about the energy exports within this plan. What exact commodities will there be where you think the

money is going to be pulled in?


Well, as Andrew said, this is not just a question of government spending. It’s very much a question of appropriate private spending and what we’ve seen over the last couple of decades is dramatic increases in investment in mining and resources in Northern

Australia. What is currently threatening to derail further private investment in mining and resources in Northern Australia is first of all, the ill-considered new taxes, like the carbon tax and the mining tax - gone. No carbon tax, no mining tax under the

government I lead and I can be taken seriously when I say that, unlike the current Prime Minister. The other problem is the massive increase in regulation over the last five or six years. The time taken and the cost involved in new resource developments

has just exploded under the current government and we need to get back to the kind of situation that applied back five or ten years ago under Coalition governments in Canberra where Australia was a low cost, a relatively low cost place to develop

resources. We cannot develop the north if we are a high cost, high regulation environment and we have the tax cutting, regulation cutting policies to ensure that we are again a relatively low cost place to develop our resources.


Governments around the country despite their different state regulations have been burnt recently by royalty revenues in terms of

commodities. Do you really think that’s going to change in the next five, ten years?


We can’t obviously set the world price for commodities but if you look at the development which is likely in the countries to our north, if you look at the rise in the numbers of middle class people in countries like China and India, increasingly Indonesia, there

is going to be much more potential for Australia to supply commodities at good prices to Asia. We’ve got, at the moment, something like a half a billion middle class people in Asia. As Andrew said, that’s expected to grow to something like three billion

middle class people in the next 20 years. The GDP of the countries of Asia is expected to double, more than double in the next 20 years by 2030 it is expected that the combined GDPs of Asia will exceed the combined GDPs of Europe and North America. This

is a massive economic transformation. It is a transformation on a scale never before seen in human history and that will offer

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enormous potential to our country as long as we have got the wit and the imagination and the determination to take advantage of it and that is what this paper is all about.


[Inaudible] dam creation there’s a lot of talk of that at the moment but out there, out west at the moment those rivers aren’t flowing

there has been no rain this season how do you create dams in an area that a lot of people say isn’t viable?


The great thing about dams is that if it doesn’t rain this year you’ve got last year’s rain stored to do what you need to do with it.


But then you are changing the structure of the river. These rivers are used to not flowing. They are not like rivers down south that constantly flow so you are changing entire eco systems.


Well, I accept that there is an environmental consequence to dams but I think all of us would agree that if they are the right dams

in the right places the environmental consequences are well and truly manageable.


So realistically how many dams would you like to see?


The Prime Minister is about to head to Indonesia do you think this is a good opportunity for some cooperation between the two of you when she is over there she can talk about the export industry growing there.


Look, I am always happy to applaud the Government when it does the right thing but it is my job to be critical of the Government

when it does the wrong thing. Unfortunately, when it comes to Indonesia we have seen a series of disastrous decisions from this Government whether it was the megaphone diplomacy engaged in by Kevin Rudd over the Oceanic Viking, whether it was the

catastrophic decision of Julia Gillard and her government to cancel the live cattle export trade in panic over a television programme, probably the single worst decision that Australia has ever made in respect of relations with our northern neighbour.

So, look if she’s able to do the right thing she will get nothing but support and encouragement from us.


[Inaudible] very, very long time away do you think that Kevin Rudd will be Prime Minister by then?


Look, I think the Rudd Gillard soap opera will end soon but the important thing is not who leads this particular government because this is a government which has proven itself to be incompetent and untrustworthy regardless of who is leading it. The

important thing is to give the people of Australia the strong and the stable government that they deserve and that means allowing the people and not the faceless men to choose who is our Prime Minister.


Have you been briefed on the situation that is happening on Manus Island at the moment.


I am aware of reports of the latest change in the Governments policy and practice. Look, it just shows that the Government was

never serious about offshore detention, offshore holding of people who arrive illegally by boat. The fact of the matter is Scott Morrison went to Manus Island earlier in the year. He said then that the facilities that the Government had in mind were not going

to work for women and children and what’s going to result from this latest change by the Government is that there will be even more incentive for the people smugglers to pack their boats with women and children because plainly women and children are

going to be processed in Australia and that sends exactly the wrong signal to the people smugglers and it is yet another episode

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in the litany of failure from this Government when it comes to protecting our borders.

Thank you so much.


© Tony Abbott MHR 2010 | Authorised by Tony Abbott MHR, Level 2, 17 Sydney Rd, Manly NSW 2095

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